Political scientist Aaron Weinschenk, UW-Green Bay assistant professor of Public and Environmental Affairs, was quoted recently by NBC 26 News as part of a story on Gov. Scott Walker’s first formal appearance in Wisconsin after suspending his presidential campaign, what the governor says he will do next, and what analysts think he needs to do next.
Sarah Goldrick-Rab, a UW-Madison professor of educational policy studies and sociology, a nationally prominent researcher regarding college affordability and access, and an outspoken public intellectual, is again drawing national attention. So far this month she has tweeted comparisons between Scott Walker and Adolph Hitler, and she also warned some incoming UW-Madison freshmen that the school they’ve chosen is a sinking ship. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank as commenting on the issue: “Any institution has its critics,” and “…especially in social media, it’s important to remember that the loudest voice usually isn’t the most accurate.”
Some see it as political grandstanding, or as proposals that seem dramatic but won’t in fact change much about the way the UW System does business. Others see deep-seated enmity and a campaign to gut academic freedom and punish higher ed. The Politico website has a relatively concise but well-balanced overview that talks to people with various perspectives on the Wisconsin tenure debate.
(Sounds kind of racy, doesn’t it? But we digress.) UW System President Ray Cross issued a statement last week concerning the technical corrections to his budget proposal that the governor released recently, including several key aspects of the public authority proposal and the preservation of the Wisconsin Idea. Cross questioned the CPI-based tuition cap proposed in the Governor’s latest document.
On behalf of the 200-plus-member UW-Green Bay Retiree Association, president and former professor James Wiersma has written a letter to the editor opposing Gov. Walker’s budget and its “devastating cuts” for the UW System. “Faculty and staff at UW-Green Bay in the past have worked hard to establish a highly recognized university. This level of dedication is now carried on by current faculty and staff. We believe it is unwise to weaken, and in some cases eliminate, programs that have such great momentum and have such an important economic impact in our region and state.” He concludes by writing, “The magnitude of these proposed cuts is short-sighted and will leave permanent scars in all campuses of our precious UW System.” See the full text.
It doesn’t look like the Legislature will support Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to grant the UW System autonomy from state oversight and laws, including the setting of tuition rates, key lawmakers said Tuesday. That’s the gist, anyway, of an AP story that quotes Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, as saying the autonomy proposal “might be on life support.” Others quoted in the story, however, say the flexibility options remain very much alive. Read more.
UW System Regents are hopeful a proposed $150 million annual cut will be reduced, if only by a modest amount, and they’re adamant that tenure and shared governance must remain intact, says UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary L. Miller, reporting on the March 5 Regents meeting he attended in Madison.
At the same time, Miller told members of the campus community Friday morning (March 6), UW-Green Bay has no choice but to prepare for the worst: a cut exceeding $4 million and potential workforce and program reductions.
The chancellor addressed an audience of 200 faculty, staff members and students in the University Theatre. It was the third in a series of informational budget “town hall” updates he has convened since early February.
(Recordings of Friday’s session — the chancellor’s 30-minute opening overview, along with a separate nearly 45 minutes of question and answer — can be found online here.)
Miller briefed faculty and staff on the Regents meeting and described two resolutions passed unanimously by board members. The first reaffirmed a commitment that shared governance and faculty tenure should be preserved, regardless of the management or budget model governing UW System operations. The second asked Wisconsin legislators to reduce the size of the $150 million annual reduction proposed in the governor’s budget, and urged approval of the “public authority” model that would grant the university system additional flexibility.
During Friday’s town hall, Miller outlined for faculty and staff the accelerated timetable for UW-Green Bay identifying its options for possible reductions. He talked about entering Phase II of the process and his intent to, beginning next week, present more specific information to shared governance groups including the Faculty Senate and the campuswide University Planning and Innovation Council.
“This phase of the work will require public discussion of some very uncomfortable things,” Miller said. “This is a $4.4 million reduction… These are difficult things to talk about, but we have to do it.”
At present, Miller said, UW-Green Bay leadership has a handle on how it might address only about half of the total budget gap. Administrative divisions including University Advancement, Intercollegiate Athletics and Business and Finance have submitted reduction proposals, already approved by the Chancellor, that he characterized as “cuts to the bone that will degrade, in some cases, our ability” to operate effectively.
Major savings must also be found in academic and student support areas reporting to the Provost, a process that is proceeding more slowly because of the complexities of the challenge and relative size of the Academic Affairs area.
The chancellor volunteered examples of areas where savings could be achieved. The University will see longer replacement cycles and less-frequent upgrades in technology. The Cofrin Library and International Studies are looking at changes. Retirements in the enrollment services area could be an opportunity for reorganization. Support for campuswide grants and research services could be shifted to a new funding model. Fund 102 money that supports portions of the Adult Access and Weidner Center budgets will be reviewed, and funding of faculty/staff development activity including the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning will be examined.
Within academic units, Miller said, the University is gathering data on how instructional resources are deployed. Practices related to course reassignments, workloads, overload payments, ad hoc appointments and the allocation of some academic services including student advising are being analyzed.
“What we’re really about with these is figuring out a way to work differently,” Miller said. “Not necessarily ‘more,’ but differently. In order to do that we have to examine all of these areas carefully, and we’ve been doing that for about two weeks… UPIC will be seeing some data on that very soon, to help us sort through that.”
The provost and academic deans will be asking fundamental, organizational questions, the chancellor continued. “Are there areas where we might want to be smaller… and that includes some academic programs… and, if so, how do we go about doing that, and if we do get smaller, can we reallocate to a growing area? These are hard discussions.”
He closed his presentation by thanking faculty and staff for their patience, consideration and participation in the process.
“I appreciate your courage. It’s hard to talk openly with a challenge this big. But we have to do that if we want to come through this with most of us here, with a University that can grow, and a University that can continue to be a great university.”
He urged members of the campus community to keep faith in their roles in working with students, developing future leaders and providing the community a quality institution of public higher education.
“We have to remember that this University was built on innovation, and innovation will get us through this.”
The recording of the 45-minute question-and-answer session that followed the chancellor’s remarks can be found here.
This isn’t the same as the big public hearings held around the state — those will come later this spring — but the Joint Finance Committee has announced its schedule of “agency briefings” to address the governor’s budget proposals one-on-one with the various state agencies. UW System Administration’s session with Joint Finance is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, at the State Capitol. It’s an early step in the legislative process but could offer a clue as to questions and concerns the influential budget committee might have about the proposed UW System allocation.
The revenue gap facing the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay under the governor’s proposed budget will in reality be closer to $4.6 million annually than to the initial projection of $4 million, Chancellor Gary L. Miller said Friday morning (Feb. 20).
Miller addressed an audience of more than 200 faculty, staff members and students in an informational budget “town hall” session in the University Theatre.
The difference relates to inclusion of a budget provision that would trim $600,000 from UW-Green Bay’s allotment for cost-to-continue items in the second year of the biennium. Despite the new, higher figure, the Chancellor expressed confidence that UW-Green Bay administrators and campus planning groups are making headway in identifying ways to manage the impact of a reduction in state-allocated taxpayer support.
About $2 million in short-term savings has already been identified to begin to deal with the base cuts, primarily by leaving some positions vacant.
UW-Green Bay must submit an outline of its budget-reduction strategy, including potential impacts, to UW System Administration and Regents for the board meeting March 4 in Madison.
“We don’t anticipate layoffs (in the short term),” Miller told the audience, “because of what we have done to account for that first $2 million (through immediate cost containment measures).”
He added, however, that if the full $150 million annual cut planned for the UW System is signed into law, the remainder of UW-Green Bay’s projected $4.6 million share will be a much more difficult challenge, bringing longer-term uncertainty to at least some positions and programs.
One goal of the University’s budget-management strategy, he said, will be to garner enough flexibilities and efficiencies to buy time while “we figure out how programs can continue on their own” under new funding models.
“Worst-case, we are going to have to take $4.6 million in annual cuts. I’d like to have enough flexibility to see if some programs can generate revenue on their own… with others, it might be a matter of whether we can wait it out, ‘hold on,’ to see if the (next state) budget improves,” Miller said, or enrollment gains or other factors brighten the outlook.
The Chancellor prefaced his remarks on the budget by saying those who characterize the proposed UW System cuts as a mere 2 percent reduction are calculating from the wrong base. While the System’s total spending does exceed $6 billion annually, that figure includes federal financial aid pass-throughs to students, student fees for housing and dining, grants, gifts and other funds earmarked for specific purposes. A more realistic calculation would compare the $150 million cut to the $1 billion annual allocation from the Legislature — an amount that, combined in roughly equal proportions with student tuition revenue — underwrites most of the System’s academic offerings and personnel costs.
Miller noted that the University’s Council of Trustees, along with the Alumni Association Board of Directors, have been briefed on budget developments and are advocating on behalf of UW-Green Bay with legislators and key decision-makers, behind the scenes. He cautioned faculty, staff and students, however, that the likelihood of reducing the proposed cuts by a meaningful amount remains an uphill prospect.
“I can’t say that I’m ‘hopeful,’” Miller said, “but we’re still talking, and that’s a positive.”
Q&A: a sampling
Q. Is the spending of student segregated fees affected by the temporary campus freeze?
A. Not really. That money that has been allocated for student organization activities, programming, travel and the like should continue as planned. Students deserve those experiences, and any savings would not really be applicable for repurposing.
Q. (From a student) Didn’t a recent audit find that the UW System had a $1 billion surplus?
A. No. Incorrect. The audit made public two years ago found not a “surplus” but cash reserves or, primarily, money collected over time to pay for designated major projects. (Example at UW-Green Bay: accumulated parking fees pay for road and lot resurfacing every few years.) “The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is not sitting on a pile of cash… The reserves we are holding (here) would get you fired, as a private-sector CEO, because they’re not large enough.”
Q. With the “public authority” proposal, won’t the devil be in the details? Why are you so sure of the value?
A. True, the proposal is not fully fleshed out. It’s possible I’ll see something that changes my mind. But, it’s not an uncommon model nationally… it is likely the state funding stream would be more consistent… and the level of over-regulation in Wisconsin is very high for a university system. Under a public authority model, “I think a university like Green Bay would compete, operate very efficiently and be successful.”
Q. Wasn’t the “Invent the Future” initiative and task-force work intended as a growth-scenario plan? And not something for a budget-cutting environment?
A. The recommendations can be viewed through either lens. (Example: Expanding graduate programs would be a revenue benefit in either case, as long as tuition revenue outpaces costs.)
Q. Isn’t the real problem the fact UW-Green Bay is relatively underfunded? Is there a chance that will change?
A. “We are underfunded — by various metrics, and (actually) just about every one.” I have started discussions with President Cross and with UW System on this topic. The initial $4 million was assigned proportionally, just to get us started with some idea of the magnitude of our cut. It’s a possibility the UW System will consider campus-by-campus factors when the final statewide reduction plan is determined.
Q. What happens if a professor’s position is ‘retired,’ not posted? Don’t offer those courses? Or hire ad hocs?
A. Deans are assessing both strategies and impacts. As far as determining which positions require filling, in the short term, enrollment growth potential and accreditation issues are priority factors at present. Delayed graduation times might be an issue when courses aren’t offered as often. Unfortunate cycle: “One of the reasons universities absorb these sort of cuts is that educators are so dedicated, it’s our nature to find a way to make things work…”
Q. (From a student) I’m getting a great education. “Even with these cuts, I know I’m valued,” but won’t students be looking at larger class sizes, a required class being offered only every other semester, or year, and taking longer to get through to your degree?
A. We can’t tell you the impact, right now. But, yes, those things are possible. “We apologize for that… but we have to make cuts to our budget.”